Welcome to wine country

Canada is the third hottest wine market in the world. Consumption is up almost 27 per cent in four years.

Welcome to wine country

Put away the tuques and back bacon and break out the brie. Canadian imbibers are turning their backs on their hoser heritage and embracing the noble grape.

The consumption of wine in Canada grew almost 27 per cent between 2003 and 2007, according to newly-released industry statistics, three times faster than the worldwide average. The home of hockey and barley sandwiches now ranks as the 6th largest importer of wine in the world in terms of volume, while the domestic market share for beer and spirits continues to shrink. And the 454 million bottles of plonk Canadians drained over that period have turned the country into the third hottest wine market in the world, trailing only Russia and China in terms of growth.

“It’s a much more sophisticated pattern of consumption,” says Xavier de Eizaguirre, chairman of Vinexpo, a global wine exhibition held every two years in Bordeaux, France. Eizaguirre, who was in Toronto this week to promote the event, says the survey based on retail and producer data from 114 countries, paints a picture of Canada as a rapidly maturing drinking nation. A transformation he attributes not just to a high standard of living, but trends in immigration, and an embarrassment of riches down at the liquor store. “I think the Canadian population is exposed to an incredible variety of products. More than even in many ‘free’ markets,” he says.

The survey predicts a rosy-cheeked future as well. Between 2008 and 2012 the Canadian retail market will grow another 26 per cent. France, not surprisingly, remains the country’s number one supplier, exporting 6.127 million cases of wine to Canada in 2007, followed closely by Italy (5.4 million) and Australia (4.83 million.) But it’s not just the foreign stuff that we’re interested in. Between 2003 and 2007 the volume of domestic wine consumed in Canada increased 16.5 per cent, to a total of 10.3 million cases, or 124 million bottles.

The new data mirrors other recent surveys showing a general trend towards the grape. Last June, Statistics Canada said that beer accounted for 47 per cent of the booze market in Canada in 2007, down from 52 per cent a decade before. Spirits made up 25 per cent, down 27 per cent from 10 years earlier. While wine now has 28 per cent of the market, up from 21 per cent. Although, it might be a little premature to break out a crying towel for Molson and Bacardi. Sales of all types of alcohol grew almost 5 per cent in 2007, to a total of $18 billion.

But lest Canadians start to consider themselves too sophisticated, the survey does reveal one potentially déclassé detail. While the wine of choice in the country remains red (61.4 per cent) with white lagging far behind (35.4 per cent) the fastest growing wine type is the bane of oenophiles, rosé. Consumption of the neither-here-nor-there beverage grew by 60 percent between 2003 and 2007. Eizaguirre, at least, is able to give it an elegant spin. “In the old days, you looked stupid drinking rosé. It was only for people who knew nothing about wine,” he says. “But now the attitude has changed. Younger people find it easy and fun. The kind of thing you might have at the disco.”